Close to 2,500 people have added their voices to a call to change St. F.X.’s sexual violence policy.
The organizers of an online petition are pleased with the early response.
“There is a lot of support from the community,” fourth-year student Hannah Moore said Oct. 17.
Since launching the petition Oct. 15, responses have come not only from St. F.X. students but also from family and friends from across Canada.
The petition, which can be found at StFX and Sexualized Violence: Calls to Action demands the “reconstruction” of the policy to one that is “survivor centered and trauma educated," Moore said.
She added it should be created by individuals “who have the knowledge and the expertise to create a sexualized violence policy.”
“They should be including students in the process and those who have lived experience and can speak to that and can contribute that to the policy,” Moore said.
On Oct. 13, during an annual open house for prospective students and their families on the Antigonish campus, more than 40 protestors delivered their message to St. F.X. president Kent MacDonald.
“I did a brief opening address of my personal experience with this school and just voiced general frustrations from the students of how we have to keep on protesting against that,” Kaitlin Dryden said.
“How survivors have to come forward and announce their stories, in order to be acknowledged or heard - not only by the administration but also by the community - which is really emotionally exhausting.”
After being sexually assaulted as a freshman, the fourth-year student said she received little or no response from school administration on the three occasions she raised her concerns.
Dryden said the protestors outlined the ‘calls to action’ found in the petition, including the need to protect and inform survivors throughout the entire reporting process, while developing a communication plan for survivors and the campus community.
“Our hope with the petition is to show how the general campus is feeling – a statement of solidarity, of sorts, but then also propose some changes that need to be made and put forward, and have the university recognize that everyone is on board and they need to get on board as well,” Moore said.
Standing up publicly
The group’s decision to voice concerns during the open house was deliberate, she added.
“We felt like it was a time where our concerns would be heard and actually acknowledged and that we could place ourselves there and they couldn’t turn us away any longer,” she said.
The protesters included not only St. F.X. students but also faculty, staff and community members.
“There has been a lot of support and it means a lot, and it helps the movement along and it gives you energy to keep on going,” Moore said when asked if they have received any negative response in taking that step.
Dryden noted that “some people didn’t think it was right; that we intruded on the open house.”
“To that, I say there have been so many times where we have publicly stood up to the administration and they have still ignored it, so we needed to choose a space that they couldn’t ignore it anymore,” she said.
‘We can do better’
Calls for change heightened after The Canadian Press recently reported a student found responsible for an alleged sexual assault last fall was back on campus, pending an appeal.
The student who brought the charge forward was not informed by school administration that he was back at the university. After learning of the situation, she withdrew from St. F.X. and returned home.
The accused, who still faces criminal charges, has since withdrawn from St. F.X, which MacDonald announced in an Oct. 12 letter to the campus community on the St. F.X. website.
“I acknowledge and accept the fact that we can do better,” he wrote.
Along with his decision to have the “[male] student in question” leave St.F.X., MacDonald said he has asked for a review of wording in the school’s disciplinary code as it relates to appeals.
He added there will also be an update provided on the connection between “our relatively new Sexual Violence Policy and the university’s Code of Conduct.”
“We remain committed to believing and supporting people who disclose that they have experienced sexual violence,” MacDonald wrote.
“We recognize and honour their courage and resilience, and respect their rights to make decisions that are in their own best interest.
“However, we must continue to develop and improve our policies and interventions, in order to truly succeed in achieving the goal of a victim/survivor-focused approach."
In this case, MacDonald said, “there were clear gaps in communication and apparent issues relating to our appeal processes that negatively affected our university community and, in some cases, re-traumatized victim/survivors.”
“For this, I am sorry,” he added.
MacDonald said, in the coming weeks, university administration will “engage with our broader community to provide opportunities to inform our review process.”
Dryden and Moore hope that engagement includes a response to the concerns their group has raised through the protest and online petition, something they had not received from university administration as of Oct. 17.
“I think, immediately, we need a response from the university; they have acknowledged nothing of what we have done, which is really disheartening and concerning,” Moore said.
“I think they are just not addressing what is going on and students’ voices, even though they claim – in the media – to be listening to the students. They are not."